A Radical Blacksmith?

Beneath a yew tree in St Leonard’s churchyard, lies a rather battered table tomb, long buried under landslip. Rediscovered in October 2013, part of the inscription, protected from the elements for generations, could still be seen: ‘liam Ga…who was Bay… and Mayor for the Yeare 1650 … Ancie … he… Yeare is….. departed this mortall life on the LORDS day the 23 of February 165…being of the age of 52 yeares’.

This is the tomb of William Gately

William Gately was born in late 1599 or early 1600, the son of John Gately and Phillice, nee Possingham. His father had a house and smithy backing onto Hythe Green. His mother died when he was six, and his father married three times more, having two more sons, before dying himself at Rye in 1624, making his fourth wife, Alice, a widow. She went to live in New Romney, leaving the business and domestic premises to William, who had also become a blacksmith.

A seventeenth century smithy

Now in charge of his own business, and with his stepmother living elsewhere, William was in need of a wife to run his house, which included a hall, with two chambers over, an entry room, garret, kitchen, buttery, stables and outside storage.  He married Ann Dryland on 2 October 1627 in Wye. Their first child, John, was baptised in Hythe on 31 August 1628, but is not mentioned in his father’s will, so presumably died young. Their second and third sons, both called William, and the fourth, Samuel born in 1642 also had short lives. Their only daughter, Elizabeth, to whom William eventually left most of his estate, was baptised in Hythe on 11 Jul 1630.

Unlike his father, who had carefully avoided any form of civic duty,  William embraced civic life with some enthusiasm. In February 1633, the Corporation charged him with collecting contributions towards cutting out the haven, one of several, ultimately futile, attempts the town made to save its harbour. He evidently performed this task satisfactorily, and in August was made freeman and jurat. He still had to pay £1.3.0d for the privilege. Tax collecting seems to have been his forte, as he was appointed on several occasions to this task, including the collection of the generally unpopular Ship Money  imposed on the country by Charles I in1634.

He also served as churchwarden at St Leonard’s in 1639 and 1641. This post was not necessarily eagerly sought after. It involved attending the bishop’s visitation to present the parish registers; keeping records of those who did not attend church, as required by law; collecting the subsequent non-attendance fines; maintaining charitable bequest; keeping church accounts and keeping the church in good repair. The vicar of Hythe, William Kingsley, was unlikely to have been often in the town to offer advice. He was also Rector of Saltwood, Rector of Ickham and Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral. Parliament removed him from all his livings in 1644 for pluralism.

From 1640, William often attended the Brotherhood and Guestling, the annual meeting of the Cinque Ports, with the Mayor and in 1649 he was appointed one of their Bailiffs to Yarmouth. This was an ancient post which had in the past produced confrontation, and even violence between the people of Yarmouth and the Bailiffs. The role of the latter was to be present in the town during the herring fair, to attend court sessions daily and pass judgement. There were also visits to church and a certain amount of feasting. It was another post which some avoided if at all possible. It entailed a long journey and several weeks spent away from home and from one’s trade or business.  William Gately was selected because a Mr Bachellor from another of the Cinque Ports had refused to go – and was fined the huge sum of £50 by the Brotherhood for his transgression.

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The Brotherhood and Guestling still meets in the 21st Century

William’s experience as Bailiff seems to have been an unfortunate one. On his return, the Corporation gave him £25 in recognition of the dangers and ‘travail’ he had endured during his journey. This was quite unprecedented. The trip may have had a salutary effect: the next month he made his will, unlike many at the time who waited until death was imminent.

In 1650 he was chosen to be Mayor. It was a difficult time – the Corporation was nearly bankrupt and started the year with a deficit. They were unable to pay for the timber bought to repair the haven and were being threatened with legal action, while further expenses were incurred placing guns on the Mount and re-glazing the Town Hall. William may have been relieved when his term of office ended, as all Mayoralities did, at Candlemas, 2 February the next year. Eighteen days later, on Sunday 20 February 1651 ‘at four of the clock in the afternoon’, he died.

William had been quite acquisitive during his lifetime and left his family well provided for. He had bought land in Bilsington in 1640 and in Saltwood in 1648, and owned silver plate and a ‘feather bedd, well furnish’d’ (a feather bed was a mattress, but rather superior to a lumpy flock one; the furnishings were the bedstead, posts, drapes and linen). His acquisitiveness, however, had led to court cases, including with his own mother’s family, where he was shown to have appropriated goods to which he was not entitled, and in 1649, when Bailiff to Yarmouth, and despite the generous gratuity he received, he overlooked paying his clerk his allowance. The man had to beg the Brotherhood for it after William’s death. For all that, William was generous in his bequests, remembering his apprentices past and present, his half-brothers John and David, an aged aunt, his god-daughter and the new minister of Hythe, William Wallace, who received forty shillings.

This last bequest is interesting. Wallace, who hailed from Aberdeen, was a Calvinist Presbyterian of particularly radical views.  His clerical duties were confined to baptisms and communion: marriage for him was not a sacrament and he said no prayers at burials. That William Gately thought highly enough of him to leave him money tends to suggest that the blacksmith shared his radicalism in religious matters. He was, now that the Church of England was effectively dis-established, able to express his views without fear and worship as he wished. And since he supported a radical minister, did he also support the parliamentary forces that had enabled him to preach freely? Probably.

William Gately’s signature (produced by permission of Canterbury Cathedral Archives)

It seems he was not long survived by his daughter or wife. The land in Saltwood was to pass to his niece Susan Gately, if they both died. It was sold by Susan in 1660, so Ann’s and Elizabeth’s deaths must be assumed.  Susan, the daughter of William’s brother John and only known surviving grandchild of John Gately senior, married in 1675, and had children.

The minster, William Wallace, was ejected from his Hythe living at the Restoration and went to preach (illegally,now that the Church of England and its bishops were also restored) ) to dissenting communities in Hove.

 

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From Brewers to Baronets – More Mackesons

The indefatigable Henry Bean Mackeson of Hythe was as assiduous in producing offspring as he was in every other area of his life: he and his wife Annie Adair (Lawrie) had seven, including twin girls. The oldest was another Henry, born on 4 May 1861 and baptised in St Leonard’s church the next month. By the age of nine he was already a boarder at Uppingham School, where he completed his education and survived an outbreak of typhoid before studying chemistry at Edinburgh. Chemistry would have been a useful subject for a brewer, but he seems not to have taken a degree and by the age of nineteen was back in Hythe and describing himself as just that. The brewery was still relatively small, employing thirty-six men. By this time, only Henry’s youngest sister Elizabeth was also still at home. Four other sisters were at a private school in London and his only brother George was still at Uppingham.

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Uppingham School, where both Henry and George Mackeson were educated. 

Henry joined the East Kent Militia – the Buffs – as a second lieutenant as soon as he was he was eighteen and rose to become a captain by 1891. Then, while taking part in a parade in Canterbury, he was thrown from his horse, which then fell on him. He was seriously ill in hospital for eight months, and though he recovered, the accident left him permanently lame, with one leg shorter than the other. He was returned home from hospital by train, in a specially constructed ambulance carriage. To make the journey home from Hythe station as painless as possible, straw was laid in the ruts in the roads.

Henry Bean Mackeson died in early 1894, leaving Henry junior and George in charge of Mackeson’s Brewery, with Henry the senior partner. Eleven months later, on 23 January 1895, in Surbiton, he married Ella Cecile Ripley, a twenty-seven-year-old stockbroker’s daughter. Although he was still then living in the family home in Hythe, ‘The Dene’, he and Ella set up house in Trinity Crescent, Folkestone, in a house much grander than anything Hythe had to offer. Brother George took over ‘The Dene’ with his bride Carlota Abel.

St Olave’s, the Mackeson home in Folkestone is now converted into an apartment block

Henry and Ella’s road to parenthood was not easy. After eight years of marriage, a daughter was stillborn in 1903, but then Harry Ripley Mackeson was born on 25 May 1905 and his brother Graham Lawrie Mackeson two years later. Tragically, Henry’s sister Annie, known as Pansy, died at St Olave’s during a visit in 1910, aged just forty-three. She had married John de Mestre Hutchison on June 3 1896 at St Leonard’s Church and is buried in the churchyard there. She had a daughter, Brenda.

Annie’s grave in St Leonard’s Churchyard, not far from that of her brother.

In/memory of/Annie Lawrie/wife of/Captn John de M. Hutchison R.N./died 27th Novbr 1910

 

Meanwhile the brewery was thriving and expanding and went on acquiring property. As well as owning public houses, and building new ones, the brothers owned off-licences and hotels. Henry became a JP, like his father before him, but had limited interest in civic affairs. He and George were more interested in cricket and both served on the committee of Kent County Cricket Club. Ella, a keen horsewoman was a regular at horse shows, where she often rode tandem.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Ella and Henry handed over their house to the military for use as a convalescent home. Ella spent the war years as a VAD nurse at the Manor Hospital in Folkestone. When it was over, Henry and George sold the business and Henry and Ella retired to Littlebourne House at Littlebourne near Canterbury. The transformation into a country gentleman was complete. Ella joined the newly formed Women’s Institute, the Mothers’ Union and the District Nursing Association. After a short illness, she died on 8 April 1933, and although the funeral service was held in Littlebourne, she was buried in St Leonard’s churchyard in Hythe.

Ella’s obituary is interesting and is indicative of a shift in the way the family viewed themselves and wanted to be viewed. The fact that Henry was in trade is glossed over. Instead we learn that:
She was married in 1895 to Mr Henry Mackeson, son of Mr Henry Bean Mackeson of Hythe, where the family have owned extensive property for over a hundred years.

The following year, Henry’s sister Mary Jane, one of the twins, died in Tonbridge. She was only the second of Henry Bean’s children to die. Henry himself died in May 1935 and was buried with Ella. He had requested that no flowers be sent to his funeral, but that instead donations should be made to the Kent and Canterbury hospital which had saved his life fifty years before.

The grave of Henry and Ella Mackeson in Hythe. 

Under the shadow/of the cross/lies/Ella Cecile/beloved wife of Henry Mackeson/died 8th April 1933/aged 66 years
Also Henry Mackeson/died 19th May 1935/aged 74 years

Harry Ripley Mackeson, the elder son of Henry Mackeson and Ella attended Rugby school and later Sandhurst College where in 1925 he was awarded the sword of honour. He also played hockey and polo and captained the shooting eight and the fencing team.  He was commissioned in the Royal Scots Greys, promoted Captain in 1936 and Lt. Colonel in 1940. After D-Day he commanded an armoured brigade and was involved in heavy fighting in the advance from Normandy to Ghent. By the end of the Second World War he was a Brigadier.

He had married Alethea Cecil Chetwynd-Talbot, daughter of Reginald George Chetwynd-Talbot, on 22 February 1940. The Duchess of Gloucester, one of the bride’s cousins, was at the wedding.

Harry Ripley Mackeson and Alethea Cecil Chetwynd-Talbot on their wedding day

As the war was drawing to a close, Harry’s uncle, George Lawrie Mackeson, was elected as president of the Hythe Conservative Association. Weeks later, the town’s MP, Rupert Brabner, a much-decorated air ace, was killed when the plane taking him to Canada was lost over the Azores.  In May 1945, Harry was chosen by the Conservatives as their prospective parliamentary candidate. He had, in fact already been selected by Horncastle Conservative Association,  but he and Alethea preferred, they said, to live in Hythe.

Hythe had voted Conservative since 1895, and Brabner had secured a comfortable majority in 1939. Harry had other advantages: he was (relatively ) local and his family well-known and he and his wife had impeccable war records  – Alethea has joined the ATS as a private. The Labour candidate was only twenty-one and from Hertfordshire; the Liberal man was from Teignmouth.

Harry threw himself into electioneering,  attending VE teas, whist drives, memorial services, visiting women workers at the steam laundry and talking to fishermen, often accompanied by Uncle George. On election day, the party ‘flooded the streets with cars’. All this, though, produced a final majority of less than two thousand, in a country which had turned its back on Winston Churchill and the Tories and voted in a Labour government.

The constituency of Hythe was abolished in 1950 and became part of the new Folkestone and Hythe constituency. Harry stood again in the General Election that year, on a patriotic and anti-nationalisation ticket. He wanted, he wrote, to ‘preserve what is best in the British Way of Life’, and to reinforce the point, his election jeep was festooned with red, white and clue bunting. It worked. His majority was now nearly ten thousand and to celebrate he blew the ancient mote horn at Hythe town hall. In the snap election of 1951, his majority was even larger.

Harry served under Winston Churchill as Deputy Chief Whip 1950-52, as a Lord of the Treasury from 1951 to 1952 and as Secretary for Overseas Trade from 1952 to 1953. In the 1954 New Year’s Honours list he was created a Baronet for public and political services and chose the title ‘of Hythe in the County of Kent’. In the 1955 election he was once again returned with a comfortable majority.


Harry Ripley Mackeson at the 1955 General Election

He did not seek re-election in 1959, saying he wanted more time for his family and business interests (he was, among other things, a director of Mackesons).

Harry died in January 1964 aged fifty-eight and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son Rupert. He also had a daughter, Fiona Mariella. At time of his death he was living in at the Old Rectory, Great Mongeham, not far from Deal in Kent. Alethea outlived him and stayed on there until her death in 1979, though she also had residences in Portman Square, London, and in Norfolk.

 

Harry was buried with his parents in St Leonard’s churchyard, Hythe

A small tablet at the foot of his parents’ grave commemorates Harry Ripley Mackeson: ‘And their eldest son/Brig. Sir Harry Mackeson Bt./the Royal Scots Greys/born 25th May 1906/died 25th Jan. 1964/ MP for Hythe and Folkestone 1945-1959’

James Watts: Becoming Respectable

James Watts,  the third son of James Watts senior, acquired most of his father’s arable and grazing lands after the latter’s death. He did not, though,  inherit it. His father’s will was rigorously fair. All his children, male or female, were to inherit an equal share of the rest of his estate. If James wanted the land, he was to be given first option to buy it at a price agreed by the executors and the profits then divided between all the children. When James senior made his will, in 1826, he had two sons older than James, but presumably saw in this third son the potential to make the most of the land and the business acumen to acquire the money needed.

James was born in 1806 and baptised in St Leonard’s church, Hythe, on 11 May that year. He was not entirely a chip off the old block. His father and brother were both active members of the local Conservative Club and outspoken members of Hythe Town council. James however, did not become a councillor until 1842, though he was, of course, a Conservative. In fact it seems that he left Hythe after his marriage for a while and lived in London, where his first two children were born in September 1837 and 1838. He was back in Hythe for the birth of the third child in 1839.

James was undoubtedly respectable. He did not spend fourteen hours a day in the saddle, or throw extravagant banquets like his father; nor get himself violently ejected from the council chamber or become bankrupt like his brother Edward. He became a coal merchant and grazier, and did his civic duty. He was mayor of Hythe no fewer than eleven times, none of which excited much comment in the local press beyond the platitudes of conventional congratulations.  His obituaries are bland. He was ‘competent’; ‘clear and straightforward;’ ‘able and impartial’. He carried on as president of the Hythe Annual Benefit Society, founded by his father, which supported sick townsmen unable to work, and bailed out his brother when he was in dire financial straits. He seems to have been, in short, a ‘safe pair of hands’, the sort of man absolutely necessary to the smooth running of local government.

He had married Charlotte Mount, the daughter of an Aldington grazier, on 6 April 1835. They had seven children, all of whom grew to adulthood. The girls were educated at home by a governess and Charlotte had a nurse for the youngest.  The boys were sent away to school.  But in March 1869, tragedy struck the family.

Their eldest daughter Ellen was also the epitome of small town respectability. She visited the poor; she deputised at St Leonard’s church when the regular organist could not play; she accompanied vocalists at concerts and sometimes sang herself; and she taught in Sunday School. That March day, when she was twenty-nine years old, she went out at about 10am to visit the sick. Crossing the Green, she borrowed a pencil from a carter’s boy, wrote in her notebook then continued across the town to Green Lane, which runs parallel to the canal. She walked further along its banks for a while, then just beyond a bend, drowned herself in four feet of water.

 

                          The quiet stretch of the Royal Military Canal where Ellen Watts ended her life. 

Her body was found by a bargeman soon afterwards. Her family and friends were at a loss to explain why she had taken her own life. She had seemed happy the evening before, they said. The inquest jury brought in the inevitable verdict that she had committed suicide while of unsound mind. Her notebook was found on the canal bank, under a tree, together with her umbrella.  The note she had written with the borrowed pencil was her farewell to her family and was read in court:

Oh, forgive me dear Mama and Papa and all the dear ones. I have tried so hard to do my duty, but I cannot. I feel I am not like other people; everyone looks so good. But God will not leave you comfortless. Oh, how I have loved you all, dear ones.

James had a vault hastily constructed in St Leonard’s churchyard,  cut into the side of the hill, and after her funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people, Ellen’s coffin was placed in it. The vicar’s wife, Mrs Sangar, placed a wreath of white flowers on it, before the vault was sealed.

                           The badly weathered stone closure on the Watts vault in St Leonard’s Churchyard

Ellen had been the third child of Hannah and James Watts. Her oldest brother, another James, became a clerk to his uncle Edward Watts, but seems never to have qualified as a solicitor himself and later worked on the London Stock Exchange. He lived in Surrey but played first class cricket for Kent between 1855 and 1860 (as a Gentleman, of course).  The next brother, born the year before Ellen, Edward,  became a clerk in the War Office and also lived in Surrey. After Ellen came Bertha, who married Dr John Hackney, a GP with a practice in Hythe High Street. Then came Georgiana, who rather less respectably married a man who was a travelling salesman for Burtons Ales. He died young and she returned as a widow to Hythe. The next sister, Mary Amelia married Commander Arthur Mansell RN: they are both buried in St Leonard’s churchyard. Finally, the youngest, Duncan, became a solicitor and went, like his brothers, to live in Surrey.

James died suddenly in 1872. He had undergone an operation in London for an undisclosed complaint but quickly – perhaps too quickly – returned to Hythe to attend a Town Council meeting which was discussing a controversy in which he was embroiled. It was too much for him and he died a few days later. He was buried in the vault he had built for Ellen. Charlotte outlived him by seventeen years and joined him there in 1889.

After her death, her surviving children gave to St Leonard’s Church a parcel of land at the end of Stade Street, where the family home had stood,  to provide for the building of St Michael’s Church, a so-called iron church.   At this time Hythe was developing fast; hundreds of houses were built on the south side of the Royal Military Canal near to Stade Street, to which working class families were attracted because of their modest rents. The Church wanted to provide for these people and, for a time, ‘mission type’ services were held in the nearby National School.  Once the Watts family had donated the site, a former vicar, the Reverend F.T. Scott, offered to pay for the building and an appeal for funds to furnish the church met with a good response.

See the source image                                               St Michael’s Church, Hythe, the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ 

The  flat pack church was ordered and erected within months and furnished with a wooden altar and pews, gas lighting and a coke stove for the winter months.  It was consecrated as St Michael’s church on 19 September 1893 and has since been sympathetically restored and is a real landmark in the town. Unlike their decaying gravestones, it is a living memorial to the presence of the Watts family in Hythe.